Rebecca White MP | Labor Member for Lyons
Cagey Health Minister Michael Ferguson waited until he had been questioned over the latest asbestos scare at the Royal Hobart Hospital before he came clean with Tasmanians.
Shadow Minister for Health and Preventative Care Rebecca White said while the latest asbestos scare was flagged in D Block at the hospital on Wednesday, Mr Ferguson waited until he was questioned by the media on Thursday afternoon before he elected to make the alarming find public.
“Yet again we see this highly secretive, sneaky and underhanded Minister attempt to keep a worrying and potentially dangerous situation from the Tasmanian public,” Ms White said.
“Yet again we see Mr Ferguson attempt to keep staff and patients in the dark when he should be doing everything he can to assure them around the situation.
“Why did it take enquiries from the media before he elected to make a public announcement?
“It’s the staff and the patients and the general public who will be concerned about their potential exposure to asbestos and it’s those same people who expect and deserve this Minister to be honest with them – they don’t expect him to play silly and secretive games.
“This latest scare is very concerning - just as last week’s find was – and what’s just as concerning is that in both instances Mr Ferguson had ample opportunity to keep Tasmanians informed and on both occasions he failed dismally.
“Under his watch, the Royal Hobart Hospital redevelopment has become a disaster zone but rather than hide and hope nobody will find out when incidents occur, Mr Ferguson has an obligation as the Minister in charge of Tasmania’s health system to be upfront.
“My genuine concern is for the staff and patients and I trust that Mr Ferguson has directed his department to provide them with timely and fulsome information.
“There’s no excuse for his continued behaviour to keep them in the dark.”
The Hodgman Liberal Government and Health Minister Michael Ferguson have no credibility in the critical preventative health area, releasing a copycat obesity program containing measures they trashed and belittled a year ago.
Shadow Health and Preventative Care Minister Rebecca White said when Labor took the first step in proposing a ban on sugary drinks in school canteens in line with the recommendations of Diabetes Tasmania a year ago, Mr Ferguson had labelled the plan “nanny statism”.
In May last year after the release of Labor’s Rethink Sugary Drink policy, Mr Ferguson said:
“Everyone wants to see a healthier Tasmania, however Labor’s lazy thought-bubble of prohibition and regulation would see Tasmania become a nanny state where, according to their own release, we’d all be drinking nothing but water.” (Michael Ferguson, The Mercury, May 18 2015)
“Now Mr Ferguson has seen the light and hypocritically re-announced Labor’s policy, even after he said our measures were nothing more than nanny-statism,” Ms White said.
“He has done nothing more than take the plan that Diabetes Tasmania, the Cancer Council, and the Heart Foundation called for and which Labor adopted and try to call it his own.
“For more than two years now, Mr Ferguson has been fumbling around preventative health with nothing to offer.
“Incredibly, the Liberal’s school canteens proposal will also not be introduced until next year meaning Mr Ferguson will have done nothing in this very important area for the majority of the Hodgman Government’s term in government.
“That poor record stands in stark contrast to Labor which has already released a clear and comprehensive policy addressing preventative health to ensure we have the healthiest population and relieve the future burden on our hospital system.
“In addition to the removal of sugary drinks from school canteens, Labor’s preventative health policy includes proper regulating of electronic cigarettes so they cannot be sold to children, building two new Child and Family Centres, establishing a 12 month Active Kids – Active Communities pilot programand aiming to have a 100 per cent vaccination rate for Tasmanian children.”
News that 40 staff at the Royal Hobart Hospital have been relocated due to asbestos exposure is very concerning indeed.
Shadow Health Minister Rebecca White said Michael Ferguson had serious questions to answer.
“Why is the public finding out about something that happened on Wednesday late on a Friday afternoon?,” Ms White said.
“The Health Minister spoke to the media on Wednesday and Thursday specifically about health related concerns of staff at the hospital, why did he neglect to inform the public of the asbestos incident?
“We know too well the dangers of exposure to asbestos so the health department is right to take this incident very seriously.
“There is no such thing as a safe level of exposure to asbestos.
“My thoughts are with the staff who have no doubt had a stressful couple of days at the Royal as well as the construction workers on the site.
“Michael Ferguson must explain why he kept the public in the dark for two days.
“Did he deliberately withhold the information during his press conference on Thursday to avoid bad news?
“Under his leadership the Royal redevelopment has become a disaster zone."
The document handed to government regarding mould at the Royal Hobart Hospital does little to reassure Tasmanians that the demountable building is fit to house patients.
Shadow Minister for Health and Preventative Care, Rebecca White, said it is little wonder the health minister did not make the so-called report public yesterday.
“The four page document that took three months to prepare confirms there are serious and ongoing health risks related to mould exposure at the hospital,” Ms White said.
“It does not refute the fact that workers on site became sick, only that those symptoms could not be exclusively attributed to mould.
“The document confirms that exposure to mould is a risk for people who suffer from asthma and allergies.
“This completely vindicates Labor’s decision to raise the matter in parliament on behalf of workers and the unions who represent them.
“It is clear the building is unfit to house patients but if the Minister had his way this sorry saga would never have been brought to light.
“The WorkSafe document also confirms that remedial work on the temporary building will continue throughout September. That is entirely consistent with our understanding that the building will be more than 10 months overdue - throwing out the timeline for the entire redevelopment.
“Michael Ferguson’s grandstanding over the last two days has demonstrated he’s more interested in petty politics than good outcomes in health.”
Health Minister Michael Ferguson’s last minute backdown on his only preventative health policy late today is proof the Hodgman Government has nothing to offer to safeguard the health of future generations of Tasmanians.
Shadow Health Minister Rebecca White said Mr Ferguson had late today attempted to sneak out his backdown on his commitment to raise the legal smoking age to 21 or 25, hoping nobody would notice.
“Mr Ferguson has abandoned any attempt to introduce meaningful measures to help ensure our future generation are healthy,” Ms White said.
“Mr Ferguson is responsible for nothing more than bungle after bungle after bungle. He has thrown our major hospitals into crisis and now has shown Tasmanians he is clueless in regard to taking action on preventative health.
“A commitment to action on preventative health is critical to not only improve health outcomes but in decreasing the burden on our hospitals.
“In contrast, just yesterday Labor announced a dedicated portfolio for preventative health care.”
Labor has also announced a range of policies to improve health outcomes for Tasmanians including increasing vaccination rates in children, removing sugary drinks from school canteens, regulating electronic cigarettes, compulsory social and emotional learning in public schools and many other positive initiatives.
Labor welcomes news that Worksafe Tasmania has ruled out an illness cluster for workers at the Royal Hobart Hospital due to mould infestations.
“It was the Labor Party that raised serious and valid concerns about potential mould-related illnesses after being contacted by workers, and their parents, who fell sick after working in mouldy rooms and buildings at the hospital,” Shadow Health Minister Rebecca White said.
“It is the height of arrogance for Michael Ferguson to be crowing about the WorkSafe report when the overriding issue – the mould itself growing at Tasmania’s largest hospital – is still being dealt with and the Royal Hobart redevelopment misses deadline after deadline.
“If Michael Ferguson had his way these mould infestations would have remained secret.
“Tasmanians are rightly growing sick and tired of Michael Ferguson’s grandstanding and pointscoring while mould takes hold in our hospitals.
“Labor will not apologise for raising genuine concerns about mould infestations at the Royal Hobart Hospital on behalf of Tasmanian construction workers, health professionals and patients.”
A Right To Information request has revealed the strong concerns of the Department of Health and Human Services over the establishment of a second cardiothoracic surgery unit in Tasmania.
Shadow Health Minister Rebecca White said the Minister has repeatedly dismissed the issue.
Shadow Health Minister Rebecca White has welcomed the deal struck between ambulance workers and the Government.
“It has taken the Government far too long to treat Tasmania’s ambulance workers with respect, but the outcome is very welcome.
“Michael Ferguson’s handling of the situation was amateurish and he treated ambulance workers with contempt.
“8 per cent over four years is a fair outcome, especially with the inclusion of back pay to 2014.
“It will be very interesting to now see how this negotiation affects future pay claims put forward by Tasmania’s public servants.
“The Government sent a message to workers by announcing it thought Liberal politicians deserved a 2.4% pay rise earlier this year.
“Presumably that’s the new starting point for public servants negotiating with the Government.”
Shadow Human Services Minister Rebecca White said the admission by Tasmania Police that 169 child protection emails were not sent to Children and Youth Services is very concerning.
“Any matter relating to the safety and well-being of Tasmanian children needs to be taken extremely seriously,” Ms White said.
“Quite clearly, this is another error of process involving vulnerable children that should never have occurred.
“It’s now incumbent on the Police Minister to explain how the oversight occurred and detail his department’s response.
The Liberal Government’s Minister responsible for the release of critical quarterly updates on the state of Tasmania’s public housing and child protection system must explain today why the latest reports are now weeks overdue.
Shadow Minister for Health and Human Services Rebecca White said Jacquie Petrusma needed to either today release the latest progress updates – which contain information up to the end of December last year – or explain what she has got to hide.
“Each quarter the Department of Health and Human Services releases information about how many people are waiting for housing and how many children are in the out of home care system,” Ms White said.
“Yet – like everything Mrs Petrusma has responsibility for – it appears they need to be dragged out of her office.
“The last update was provided in September 2015 and the December publication is now well overdue which begs the obvious question: Is there something in those reports that Mrs Petrusma does not want Tasmanians to know about?
“Minister Petrusma cannot hide from public scrutiny of her portfolio and must release this information as a matter of priority - today.
“Tasmanians have a right to know whether the government has made improvements addressing the growing number of people waiting for public housing.
“They have a right to be provided with a clear picture of the state of our child protection system, particularly considering the rightfully high level of interest in Jacquie Petrusma’s handling of the child protection portfolio in recent months.
“This is the same Minister that was responsible for 151 child protection notifications being ignored in the north west and a youth in her care being made to live in a tent in the middle of winter.”